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The 3 to 4-inch leaves of the inkberry plant are inflexible with sharply spiked edges capable of drawing blood if they come into contact with skin. Found almost anywhere in the United States, it is usually grown as a tree which can reach up to 100 feet tall, but they are more commonly about 20 to 50 feet. The inkberry grows small, pale green flowers in April which grow in clusters until late May or early June, depending on the climate. The fruit is small, round, and bright red like holly berries, which is why it is also known as the American holly tree or bush. It is these berries that contain the toxins, saponins, which can cause many gastrointestinal side effects and may even be fatal in large doses. Luckily, the sharp leaves usually keep dogs from eating a lethal dose.
Inkberry plants are not poisonous themselves, but the fruit (berries) are toxic to people and animals. In addition, the leaves of the inkberry plant have sharp enough spines to do damage to your dog’s mouth, throat, airway, and intestinal tract. The small red fruits contain saponins, which have the ability to produce gastrointestinal irritation, agitation, and depression when consumed. Saponins can damage the membrane of the red blood cells releasing the hemoglobin into the surrounding tissues and may also alter the mucosal cells of the small intestines, causing permanent intestinal damage. Although it is rare, consumption of many fruits can be fatal.
The side effects from inkberry poisoning are varied and may be mild to severe, depending on the amount of berries consumed. Although the leaves do not contain saponins, the sharpness of the spines can cause tissue damage and possibly inflammation. This can lead to breathing difficulties in some cases. Other signs of inkberry poisoning are:
Inkberry (ilex opaca) is a large tree which is part of the holly species (ilex) of the Aquifoliaceae family. It is known by many other names, such as:
Diagnosing plant poisonings are sometimes difficult, so bring a photo or a part of the plant with you to show to the veterinarian. This may help with the treatment plan. Another thing the veterinarian may need is your pet’s medical records, so bring them if you can. If not, just remember to tell her about any medications your dog is on and any recent illnesses and injuries. Briefly explain the situation and any symptoms you have seen.
A comprehensive physical examination will be done to assess your pet’s general health. This includes heart rate, breath sounds, blood pressure, body temperature, weight, and reflexes. Abdominal radiographs (x-rays) will be done to look for obstructions or damage to the stomach, intestines, and any of the vital organs. An ultrasound may also be performed in order to see if there are any plant particles or residue in your dog’s gastrointestinal system. Also, if necessary, the veterinarian may decide to get a CT scan or MRI for a more detailed view of what is going on inside your dog’s system. In addition, the veterinarian will want to do some laboratory tests to rule out any underlying conditions. Some of the tests needed include urinalysis, complete blood count, metabolic panel, biochemical profile, liver enzyme panel, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and packed cell volume (PCV).
To treat your pet, the veterinarian will use the symptoms she has noticed and the results of the tests. The usual protocol for plant poisonings is evacuation, decontamination, medication, and observations.
The first step is to rid the body of toxins, so the veterinarian will give your pet ipecac or a peroxide solution in order to induce vomiting. Activated charcoal will also be used to absorb any toxins that may still be undigested.
Fluids and electrolytes will be given intravenously (IV) to flush the kidneys and prevent dehydration resulting from excessive diarrhea and vomiting. A gastric lavage may also be needed if your dog ate a large amount of inkberry fruits.
Stomach protectants and antacids will be given as well as a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation.
Your veterinarian may want to keep your dog in the hospital for observation if the side effects are severe or if your pet is not responding well to treatment. If not, you will be able to go home and observe your dog yourself.
Prognosis is excellent as long as you are able to obtain treatment for your canine companion within the first 12 hours. It is important to keep your dog hydrated, so provide plenty of fresh water and call your veterinarian if you have concerns or questions.
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